17th Jul, 2019

Wasps, council and friends refuse to respond after we named names over 'Wasps funding' for failed Coventry City takeover plot

Les Reid 27th Jun, 2019 Updated: 28th Jun, 2019

LEADING Wasps and council figures have gone silent after we named names and exposed insider claims the rugby club had sought to put millions of pounds into a failed Coventry City takeover plot – while threatening to lock the football club out of the Ricoh Arena.

Yesterday we revealed claims leaked by former takeover consortium member Richard Overson that Wasps – or Wasps’ wealthy ‘ultimate shareholder’ Derek Richardson or other associated party – WERE intending to help buy the club by raising money, despite Wasps’ denials.

We also named names which other inside sources said were involved in the discussions.

They included Wasps director Mark Robertson – who is also chief executive of wealth management company The Hottinger Group – and Baljit Shergill and Roger Medwell from the Coventry City of Culture Trust.

They sit on the trust’s board with Coventry City Council leader George Duggins and council chief executive Martin Reeves.

The Coventry Observer has now put a series of questions individually to Mr Richardson and Mr Robertson from Wasps, council leader George Duggins and Mr Reeves, and to Mr Shergill and Roger Medwell.

All have declined to respond to our questions and story, or to deny they were involved in the would-be takeover discussions.

Those discussions led to another consortium bid headed by ex-CCFC board member Gary Hoffman to Coventry City’s owners Sisu being rejected in April this year.

Throughout the period of secret discussions, Wasps owners – supported by council leaders – repeatedly insisted the football club as tenants would be locked out of the Ricoh Arena if its owners did not drop legal action against the council’s 2014 stadium sale to then London Wasps.

Our sources suggest Wasps’ previous brief statement denying financial input into the takeover efforts are incomplete and carefully worded.

We have asked Mr Richardson and Mr Robertson to be specific about any personal involvement in the discussions.

Among several questions, we asked whether there was (a) any involvement and (b) any suggestion of financial backing or involvement from Wasps Holdings Limited, or its directors, or ultimate shareholder or another party involved with Wasps, and we requested clear responses.

Their response was: “Wasps won’t be issuing any further response to the story.”

Representatives confirmed Mr Richardson and Mr Robertson had received our questions to them individually.

The previous short media statement had read: “Nick Eastwood, Chief Executive of Wasps Group, said: “We have been approached at times by different parties who have an interest in Coventry City and its future at the Ricoh Arena. We obviously cannot reveal the identity of the parties but can say that we have not offered any financial backing to, or agreed any rent or lease deal with, any of them.

“We would simply like to see the club back playing at the Ricoh Arena, a view we believe is shared by everyone involved.”

As we reported yesterday, sources close to the consortium told us of proposals that Wasps would put in £5million towards a £10million bid for the club, and that Wasps would be the “Ultimate Beneficial Owner” of Coventry City Football Club. Wasps and Mr Richardson have declined to respond to those claims too.

Today, we put further questions to Mr Richardson and made clear we were questioning him as an individual and ‘ultimate shareholder’ as opposed to Wasps Holdings Limited, for which he is a director.

The response today via their PR representative was: “There won’t be any further comment from Wasps.”

OUR QUESTIONS TO COUNCIL AND FRIENDS

We have since yesterday sought responses to our story from Coun Duggins, Mr Reeves and the council.

We have also asked the following questions..

Were the council leader, council executives including CEO Martin Reeves or any council representative, or party acting on their behalf, involved in any way in discussions concerning a failed takeover plot to buy Coventry City?

Were they aware of Wasps’ involvement, including alleged financial backing from Wasps or a related party, at a time when leading councillors were supporting Wasps’ stance of locking the club out of the stadium built for it, unless stringent conditions were met?

Were Coun Duggins and Mr Reeves aware of the involvement in the CCFC takeover discussions of two of their colleagues from the City of Culture Trust board named by our sources yesterday, Baljit Shergill and Roger Medwell? In what capacity were they allegedly acting?

Both Mr Shergill and Mr Medwell have declined to respond to our questions, including our invitation to deny that they were personally involved in the discussions, and to make clear to the pubic in what capacity they were acting.

MR OVERSON’S CLAIMS

Multi-millionaire Richard Overson and fan of Coventry City pulled out of the proposed CCFC takeover consortium because of Wasps’ involvement.

He told us: “I came out because London Wasps were involved. I’ve never been a fan of them from day one.

“I’ve never been happy with Wasps playing at the Ricoh Arena and being in Coventry.”

Asked by the Coventry Observer if the proposal was that Wasps, or people involved at the top of Wasps, would put in money, Mr Overson told us: “I would say so, yes.

“From my involvement in the consortium my understanding was that Wasps were going to have a financial input.”

RICOH DISPUTE

With Coventry City now preparing to play home matches at Birmingham City.Sisu boss Joy Seppala told Sky Sports News this week the she believed Wasps had sought to buy Coventry City Football Club.

She said this was because of the potential for “infinite” revenues were the club to be combined with the Ricoh Arena and potentially gain promotion to the Premiership. By contrast, she claimed, Wasps as a premiership rugby club (with comparatively much less money in the sport) had “topped out” with its income potential.

She also reminded viewers of how Arena Coventry Limited – then owned by the council and Alan Edward Higgs Charity – had bid to buy the football club as it came out of administration in 2013.

Wasps are £55million in debt and face having to pay back £35million of that debt to bondholders in 2022.

Coventry City personnel have previously suggested they could lose up to £2million a year – including in fans’ footfall – from losing Coventry City.

As we revealed, Sisu has claimed Wasps were insisting – as a condition for Coventry City remaining at the stadium built for it – that it must underwrite any future potential damages and losses for Wasps, including any flowing from Sisu’s Complaint to the European Commission.

Such a condition is undeliverable, could bankrupt Coventry City and would remove their basic legal rights, Sisu claims.

Sisu’s complaint to the EC argues Coventry City Council’s agreement to sell the Ricoh Arena company to Wasps on a massively extended 250-year lease was an unlawful “state aid” use of taxpayers’ money under European laws, and that Wasps should pay back £28million to the council. That case has been rejected by the highest UK courts.

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